Category Archives: Books & Reading

100 Pages a Day: Adam + Evelyn Part Three

Adam + Evelyn
Ingo Schulze

Part One Part Two

Pages 199 – 284
Adam & Evelyn keep arguing, about nothing. It’s practically boring now. They’ve made it to the West, just as their car dies for good.

In their hotel room, Adam finds a copy of the bible and begins to read the creation story of Adam & Eve in Genesis.

The next morning, at breakfast, the mechanic returns to tell them he’ll buy the car from them.  There’s just no fixing it.

Taking the money, they phone Adam’s aunt and uncle asking for a place to stay while he and Evelyn get settled in West Germany and begin again.

There’s an interrogation of sorts in an embassy so they can get their papers sorted and their continued living in the West will be approved.  Adam continues to carry the bible he took from the hotel in Bavaria.

More bickering.  Adam thinks getting to the West is going to be disastrous.  Evelyn looks at it as a positive thing, at least she’ll get to go to university now.  There’s a reunion with Katja, who introduces them to her boyfriend, Markel.

Evelyn learns she is pregnant.  Adam wants to know who the father is, him or Michael.  While staying with Adam’s family, he starts to look for clients but discovers that women buy ready-made off the rack and don’t want a custom tailor.  He grouses.  Evelyn keeps trying to cheer him up, to no avail.

The wall between East and West Germany comes down.  Those from the East are skeptical that this will change anything.  Adam returns to his home in the East and finds it trashed.  Appliances have been stolen, the photos of Adam’s models in his creations have been torn apart.  Even his bicycle has been stolen.  He returns with the box of photographs.  Evelyn, thinking he can use them as a portfolio, tapes them back together and, with Katja, puts them in albums.

Soon, Adam has a part-time job with a shop doing alterations.  Evelyn has been accepted to university.  Katja and Marek help them get into a room in the same house Katja and Marek live in.

The book ends with Adam standing in the backyard of his new home standing over a fire and burning his photographs, giving a short laugh over each photo.  Evelyn watches from the kitchen, while the neighbors watch in alarm.  Evelyn, at last, feels content.

100 Pages a Day: Adam + Evelyn Part One

Adam + Evelyn
Ingo Schulze

Part TwoPart Three

Another in the Canongate Myth series, featuring global writers retelling myths.

Part One:  Pages 1-99

Adam is a tailor who likes his female clients a bit too much.  Evelyn walks in on him one day, pants at his ankles, with another woman.  This is too much.

They had planned a trip to Hungary, so Evelyn leaves without Adam.  She goes with her friend Simone, and her cousin from West Germany, Michael.

And Adam?  Adam decides to stalk Evelyn across East Germany into Hungary.  At first, he keeps pace with them, but loses them in Prague in the Czech Republic.

Thinking he knows where Evelyn is going, Adam proceeds to drive, stopping at road stops to take care of necessities.  At one, a woman named Katja asks for a ride to, basically, anywhere.  Adam agrees, and they continue on his way.

When they reach the final destination of Lake Balaton in western Hungary, Evelyn’s friend Simone finds them and gives directions to the place where the rest are staying.

This is set in 1989 just before the Berlin Wall fell.  There are border checks, with tension between the characters about how to get across each border without being pulled over for further searches.  Katja has no papers and Adam sneaks her over the border in the trunk of his car.

I’m enjoying the way Schulze tells this story.  It has good pacing and is filled with interesting tidbits alluding to the way life must have been for the young citizens of Eastern Europe when things were changing, but not obviously so.

Book Review: The Hurricane Party

The Hurricane Party
Klas Ostergren

100 Pages a Day:
Part OnePart Two Part Three

Overall, the best part of The Hurricane Party, was the retelling of the Lokasenna, the banquet of the Norse gods featuring the trickster god, Loki, killing and insulting others. You know, causing trouble as trickster gods do.

This part was interesting and read smoothly, even when tangents were taken to explain the background story of Loki and some other character.

It was the foundation laying that was stilted and somewhat mundane.  It’s necessary to meet Hanck and learn his story, and for the scenery to be explained as classist, grey and toxic (literally) for the ordinary worker.

We learn many details about Hanck but it truly felt as though Ostergren had taken bullet points about Hanck’s life and then tried to flesh them out with some details.  Most of these details make little sense in the context of the story and add nothing to the plot of Hanck finding, losing, and learning about love.

That the innkeeper’s red-haired daughter was a virgin and her hair was perfect in the calibration of some obsolete gauge still has me wondering.

I often remind myself that I must meet the author where he is, not where I want him to be.  This could have been a more interesting story about a man living in 1984 like times who learns about love through the death of his son.  Ostergren’s way of telling this story wasn’t how I wanted it to read.  This is another case of author and reader being on different pages.

100 Pages a Day: The Hurricane Party Part Three

The Hurricane Party Klas Ostergren

Part OnePart Two

Pages 199 – 214

Bora finishes telling Hanck the tale of Toby’s death.  There’s a lot of history and side stories to explain the inner workings of The Clan and their feuds, especially Loki’s part in all of it.

The next morning, Hanck departs for home, hoping to come to terms with how Toby died.

Hanck has been told that Loki frequents a bar called The Colonial Club, so Hanck goes there in the hopes of confronting Loki.  An older whore joins Hanck at his table and lures him into talking about his sorrows.

She writes a note for Hanck to use to skip the line of supplicants at the Old Man’s residence, and get direct and immediate access.  Hanck, understandably, is hesitant about using this letter.  Who is this woman to have connections with the highest level of The Clan?

Dubious though he is, Hanck decides to give it a try.  To his surprise, he is ushered into the Old Man’s, Odin’s, presence.  After reading the letter, he reveals to Hanck that the whore at The Colonial Club was Loki himself.  Furthermore, Odin reveals that he knows what happened to Toby, both the time he was delivered to the hospital and the time he died while serving at the banquet.

Hanck tells Odin he wants to see his son, so Odin makes a deal.  Having enjoyed Hanck’s reports from the time when he was an insurance adjuster, Odin wants Hanck to write the same type of report about love.  Not the drivel that poets and storytellers write, but a sharp report in which love can be codified.  Hanck is dubious about his ability to do this task, but agrees if only he is allowed to see his son one more time.

Can you turn love into something sensible, rational and even logical?  If you can, then you would also be capable of forgiving.” (p. 280)

Hanck is then taken to the City of the Dead where he has one last conversation with Toby, in which it is revealed that he has met his mother and knows his father lied to him about her.  Then, Hanck visits the display of Loki’s torment, tied up under a  snake whose  venom will kill him should any touch him.  Loki’s wife sits next to him, holding a bowl above his head, catching the venom as it drips down.  Eventually, the bowl gets full and she must step outside to empty it.  Then Loki’s torture can be seen by all.

When he arrives home, Hanck sits at his typewriter and thinks that Odin has handed him an impossible task.  How can love be codified?

Then an invitation to the meeting of the Affect Commission to participate in a forum about love and how to codify it.  Hanck sits uncomfortably warm in the turtleneck he bought Toby years ago and listens to experts speak about love and its fluidity.

At the interval he leaves because he’s realized that these experts have it all wrong.  “Love is unfathomable!” (p. 311)  He returns home and sits at his typewriter and finds he knows how to write about love, by writing about his love for Toby and their life together.

 

100 Pages a Day: The Hurricane Party Part Two

The Hurricane Party Klas Ostergren

Part OnePart Three

Pages 98 – 198, this section really picks up steam and gets to the heart of the story.

Earlier in the book, when Hanck’s mother dies, her last words are “He will be a chef!”  She utters this before Hanck even met Toby’s mother.

Toby is described as sensitive and builds imaginary worlds, happily playing alone.  As he grows, he begins to show talent in the kitchen and takes over the cooking duties.  As he approaches adulthood, his skills become honed enough that he begins to work as a chef in higher end restaurants, from which he brings left over food and wine to share with his father.

Once a year, The Clan holds an enormous dinner party on one of the islands of the archipelago.  Toby leaves home and begins working at the inn which hosts this party and becomes a chef of great acclaim.

Hanck is again visited by two men dressed in lavender.  These communicators tell him that his son has died, at the age of 20.  As he progresses through the stages of grieving, Hanck wanders the pleasure district in search of something to dull his ache.

Finally, Hanck decides to confront the people who killed his son, and gets a ticket on the ferry which takes him to the inn on the farthest island in the archipelago.

One of the nine sisters who manage the inn arranges to meet Hanck in the library and tells him the story of Toby’s (known as Fimafeng to those he worked with) death.  Bora tells Hanck that Loki killed Toby because he sneezed.  That Toby didn’t have the sense to cover his face, or excuse himself after he sneezed.  He stood with a beatific grin on his face and Loki took offense and killed Toby.

Remember Toby’s mother was from the sect called The Sneezers, which explains the beatific look.  As Bora continues the tale, it becomes clear Loki was spoiling for a fight, his ego couldn’t handle all the other gods heaping praise on Fimafeng.

Now comes the retelling of the Norse story of Lokasenna.  The Clan is the clan of Norse gods who meet once a year for an all out bacchanalia (to mix mythic metaphors).  In the tale of Lokasenna, Loki is banned from the banquet by the gods after having killed Fimafeng.  But he returns and begins insulting everyone present.  Many respond in kind, and tensions escalate.  Odin strains to keep the peace as Loki tells tales of outlandish sexual situations, stories that should have remained unspoken.

Hanck has checked in for some unimaginable excitement as he learns of how Toby died, and the political wrangling going on between the members of The Clan.  Infuriated grief-stricken father, meet narcissistic trickster god who has angered all the other gods of The Clan.

 

100 Pages a Day: The Hurricane Party Part One

The Hurricane Party Klas Ostergren

Part TwoPart Three

After reading Margaret Atwood’s wonderful retelling of the myth of Penelope and Odysseus, The Penelopiad, I discovered there’s an entire series planned by Canongate, featuring global writers retelling myths.

The Hurricane Party, written by Klas Östergren is part of the Myths series.

In pages 1 through 98, 1984 has reared its ugly head in Sweden.  The cities are bleak, the administrative bureaucracy is being run by a fearsome organization called The Clan.

The book opens with a description of listening to organ music on the radio.  It took a while to understand it’s just the notes.  A note could be broadcast for days or weeks with no change.  An entire cottage industry has grown around gambling on when the note will change and to what.

Hanck Örn used to work for an insurance company run by The Clan.  His job was to investigate claims made to this company, a flimsy cover for The Clan’s protection racket.

In these first pages, the reader learns that Hanck was fired from his job and, returning to the scene of his last investigation, invests his money in typewriters.  Setting up a workshop in his apartment, Hanck teaches himself to repair and customize them, having found a market which sells obsolete technology to collectors.

On one of his visits, Hanck meets a young woman who tracks him down in his city apartment and spends the night.  Here we learn about the many splintered factions of Christian sects, especially The Sneezers who believe that God can be found in the space of the sneeze where the least amount of control and the largest void intersect.

Months after this encounter, men dressed in lavender arrive to take Hanck to an undisclosed location, which turns out to be a hospital.  His son, three-day old Toby, had been dumped with Hanck’s business card pinned to his swaddling clothes.  On the back of the card is the note, “Mother dead.”  Hanck was taken to the hospital to be informed of his son’s existence, and to decide Toby’s fate.

Perhaps needless to say, Hanck instantly falls in love with Toby and prepares his home for this new entry in his life.

This is a bleak book so far and the writing feels stilted.  I’m willing to admit this could be a cultural miscue on my part.  The translator for this book, Tiina Nunnally, has won awards for her work, so it probably isn’t.  Be that as it may, The Hurricane Party doesn’t read as well as George Orwell.

A little research reveals the myth being retold makes itself obvious later in the book and has to do with Loki as related in the Prose Edda of Norse mythology.

 

Book Review: Reviving Ophelia

But most important, we can change our culture.  We can work together to build a culture that is less complicated and more nurturing, less violent and sexualized and more growth-producing.  Our daughters [children] deserve a society in which all their gifts can be developed and appreciated. (p. 13)

In early adolescence girls learn how important appearance is in defining social acceptability.  Attractiveness is both a necessary and sufficient condition for girls’ success.  This is an old, old problem.  Helen of Troy didn’t launch a thousand ships because she was a hard worker.  Juliet wasn’t loved for her math ability.  (p. 40)

Girls are trained to be less than who they really are.  They are trained to be what the culture wants of its young women, not what they themselves want to become. (p. 44)

I first read Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, Ph. D. when it came out in 1994.  Even then I was searching for me.  I was very confused about being female and looking for answers that would make me worthy in the eyes of society.  I missed what Dr. Pipher was saying.  Society is not the place to turn to for answers, it will only confuse you and set standards which are impossible to meet.  I wasn’t ready to hear that I was good enough on my own, and screw society.

Twenty years later, I returned to this book in search of answers on how to be a good auntie to the children in my life who have been raised in a society which is more pornified and sexualized than when Reviving Ophelia was first published.

I didn’t find those answers either.  Not because Pipher doesn’t offer a good explanation of what happens when puberty hits and many of the ways parenting and society can stack the deck against young women without meaning to.

I have to take it on intellectual faith that the maelstrom that is puberty and adolescence really is as described.  There was so much other dysfunction going on in my family that I truly cannot relate on an emotional level and do not have physical memories of what it was like to be a teenaged girl.

Hormones rampaging?  Didn’t notice.  Black and white thinking?  Don’t remember.  It’s hard for me because my memories involve a father who came into my bedroom at night and a mother who undermined my development at every turn.

Watching my six nieces grow has been quite the education for me.  I can see the things Pipher describes happening in them and I have learned it’s okay because it’s normal.  I’ve watched them go through these stages and come out the other end to be strong women who can face society on their own terms.  In no small part due to the parenting they received, from family prepared to teach them the pitfalls of living in a pornified society filled with highly sexualized standards for girls and women.

Reviving Ophelia is well-written and easy to read.   Dr. Pipher’s case studies are still relevant, as are her explanations about what goes on when a girl hits puberty.  That I didn’t get what I wanted from it is not Dr. Pipher’s fault, I was looking for a book she didn’t write.

 

 

Bookish Lists

I love lists.  Making them, marking things off, adopting others’ lists.  When it comes to reading, I don’t go by a list, I go by what’s at the top of the stack.  There’s a folder on my desk filled with book lists which I occasionally cross-check with my own reading.  It’s interesting to me what books people think are important and how that intersects with what I read.

Mostly, what I’ve learned is that my reading is eclectic and doesn’t fit anyone’s norm but my own.  I have a tendency to ignore what’s popping up on popular lists, even those which come highly regarded by people whose taste in books I trust and respect.  This does not just apply to books either.  Music, tv, movies; I take a step back and wait for the dust to settle.  I find I’m not missing out on a whole lot anyway.

But back to the lists.  Today I came across a link for Bill Gates’ book blog.  Interesting, mostly because there are people in the public’s gaze whom I don’t think of as readers, if I think of them as other than their public front at all.  Bill Gates is someone I have mixed feelings about, but they’re shallow feelings because I don’t pay that much attention.

Gates’ blog is interesting because there’s not a lot of crossover from his list to mine.  Not that this is surprising, Gates built and ran a very successful software company, so his taste in books runs more toward the technical/business end of life.  Mostly non-fiction on weighty topics like the global economy, biographies/memoirs by people like Timothy Geithner.  It’s an interesting insight to Gates, and there are very few books on his list I’d be interested in reading.

Then there’s David Bowie’s Top 100 Books list, of which I’ve read 8 and have one queued up to read before the end of the year.  It’s probably obvious why I would find more to like on Bowie’s list than on Gates’.

And, if there was any doubt in anyone’s mind that Marilyn Monroe was more than a sexy actress, there’s this list of 430 books in her library, compiled by an online fan club.  From scanning the list, it seems Monroe’s reading was fed by what feeds mine; books I think I should have already read (which includes many classics like Dante and Milton) and books about subjects or people who fascinate me.

Monroe did her best to surround herself with smart people, especially men, so it’s not surprising there’s a number of books written by them (Clifford Odets, Henry Miller).  And it would be a surprise to me if a lot of books on this list weren’t recommended by those men as a foundation to a good library.

All these lists beg the question, “What is the foundation of a good library?”  Is it the Western Canon1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die?  (Full disclosure, I do have this list and use it to mark the intersection of my own reading and what other people think “should” be read.  Again, a concept I’m not big on.)

Since I grew up in a family which loved to read, I was exposed to lots of authors and topics.  Mom loved mysteries (Sherlock Holmes) and science fiction (Isaac Asimov).  Dad’s reading was more eclectic and very often inappropriate for young readers.  I read not only what was assigned in school, but what looked interesting in the library.  When I reached college, there was more of what was required in class.  Aside from that, my reading is probably 85% “oooh shiny” directed by what catches my eye at the moment.

Being unemployed and having little disposable income makes it easier to concentrate on what’s in my personal library.  All 42+ boxes of it.  Which is like opening gifts to myself all the time.  It’s also like an archeological dig, as I sift through the layers of my life remembering when, and why, I picked these books.  I know the deeper I go, the more diverse topics I’m going to find.  The Hollywood/film student period.  The John Grisham period (when I get to that box, they all go outta da house).  The folklore period,  etc. etc.

One thing’s for sure, as long as I have books, I’ll never be bored.

On This Date: Allen Ginsberg

6 Poets at 6 Gallery
6 Poets at 6 Gallery

Jack Kerouac is the gateway drug to The Beats.  It seems like everyone comes to them through On the Road.  I loved it, and I bought works by these men who sought to change a generation with their new style of writing.

James Franco’s portrayal of Allen Ginsberg and his reading of “Howl,” in the movie turned me on to Ginsberg.  And I fell in love.  Now I read Howl and Other Poems (the first collection of Ginsberg poems ever published) at least once a year.  This little book never leaves my desk.  It never gets tossed in with the other books in my collection.

It’s difficult to explain how much Ginsberg means to me.  He’s the first poet whose work I connected with.  After years of struggling with what schools had told me were great poems and poets, here was this free-flow of words which hit me right in the gut.  “This … this is what I’ve been looking for!”  Now I can say I dig poetry.  🙂

The more I read about Allen Ginsberg, the more I wish I had known him.  Yes, he was as screwed up as any of them (well, except for William S. Burroughs who was his very own special kind of screwed up).  But it seems to me that Ginsberg sought to make himself better, to make those around him better, and was always trying new ways to expand his consciousness.

One biography I read stated in the Introduction that no matter what people felt about Ginsberg, they all universally thought of him and kind and gracious.

About a year ago, I had a dream where I was walking through a crowd of people and came across Ginsberg.  He looked at me kindly, and I bowed with my hands together, “Namaste Mr. Ginsberg.  I am proud to have met you.”  He nodded and I moved on.

So today is one worth noting, not only for the introduction of Ginsberg’s poetry to the public, but for the profound changes he wrought on society through his views on civil rights and the obscenity trial in San Francisco over “Howl,” which changed the very definition of obscenity and censorship.

At the Beat Museum
With Ginsberg at The Beat Museum, North Beach, San Francisco